A Winter Tradition

Psalm 19:1

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”

Continuing a tradition

Continuing a winter tradition

For Trip Pictures Click Here

Last year Paul and I went to Harriman State Park in New York state on the weekend after Christmas in search of a winter hike. This year we decided a 2nd annual WWTS Winter Hang was in order so we returned to Harriman, only this time visiting the northern end of the park.

Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain loomed over the parking lot of the Bear Mountain Inn, and as we prepared our gear I thought, “Man, that looks like a rugged climb!”. It turns out I was wrong. We would be starting out southbound on the Appalachian Trail, and when a ¬†trail sees as much use as this section does trail maintainers have to take serious steps to minimize erosion. About half of the climb is on stone steps that climb just steep enough to let you know that you’re going to breath a little harder before you reach the top.

Stone steps on Bear Mountain

Stone steps on Bear Mountain

Not to worry, the grade relents and becomes more of a foot path, with nice views of the Bear Mountain Bridge and the Hudson River.

Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain

Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain

We paused long enough to take it all in, and with a little coaxing Paul convinced me that lunch on the summit would be so much better, although that might be hard to imagine.

Hudson River view

Hudson River view

We passed through a nice little stand of pines and then the trail turns onto the paved road that goes to the tower on the summit of Bear Mountain. After a short road walk, and another short pitch with some nice views, we stood at the top, looking over the southern half of the park. There was a parking lot and folks sitting on benches, and even one of those doodads that you put a quarter in and look out over the views. Paul and I decided to pull up a comfortable rock and enjoy the scenery while chowing down. It was a nice, clear, comfortable day, with a light breeze, and by the time we finished lunch we had cooled enough that we knew it was time to get moving again.

Views from Bear Mountain

Views from Bear Mountain

Tower on the summit of Bear Mountain

Tower on the summit of Bear Mountain

Instead of taking the bypass trail to avoid the hike on the summit we stayed on the AT, and I’m sure next time I’ll take the bypass. Not a whole lot to see, but I had to hike it once. The trail down off the mountain top was just as nice as the trail up, and soon we were in the valley again.

Paul negotiating rock steps

Paul negotiating rock steps

After crossing Seven Lakes Drive we got to talking about life and some of the things that good friends talk about, and I didn’t notice that were missed a turn on the AT. We walked along the 1777 trail, and then the Timp-Torne Trail, and finally we turned onto the Fawn Trail. About 100 yards onto the Fawn Trail I notice the white blaze with the red “F” and thought,” hmm, this doesn’t seem right”. A family was walking up from the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area parking lot and they confirmed my suspicion, I WAS in fact meandering without a clue of where I was. Well, to be fair, I had a clue, but I was meandering. Anyway, I also knew that we wanted to be on the Timp-Torne Trail, so after a short bit of backtracking we turned onto the blue blazed T-T trail.

Bear Mountain summit from the Timp-Torne Trail

Bear Mountain summit from the Timp-Torne Trail

Timp-Torne Trail

Timp-Torne Trail

Up, up, up we climbed, over slabs and along some nice trail. Once again cluelessness set in as I commented to Paul that I guess we were on the section that paralleled the AT, but where were the white blazes? I swear to you folks, I’m a much more competent operator than this, or I’d at least like to think so. It turns out that we never doubled back to the AT, but got right on the blue blaze, but I guess I knew that at the time. I tell ya, it’s a wonder my brain doesn’t melt down sometimes immediately upon awaking in the morning. Oh well, no harm, no foul as we eventually linked up with the Appalachian Trail once again. What’s an adventure if everything goes as planned, eh? Soon enough we were walking up on our destination for the day – West Mountain Shelter.

West Mountain Shelter

West Mountain Shelter

Camp behind West Mountain Shelter

Camp behind West Mountain Shelter

West Mountain Shelter has a bit of a bad reputation due to it’s easy access and lack of water, but the view from the front is amazing, with the New York City skyline some 25 miles distant. On top of that, there had to be a hundred places to hang a hammock. Paul and I immediately set about making camp and securing firewood, and although the wood was slim pickings we did find enough to get a small fire going.

Warming fire

Warming fire

As I inhaled my dinner (Packit Gourmet State Fair Chili, and mighty tasty I will add), something told me to turn around. It was one of those magical moments in the outdoors that plays out over and over, even when no one is around to see it. The NYC skyline had suddenly become ablaze with the reflection of the fleeting sun, and in just a few short moments it was gone.

NYC skyline on "fire"

NYC skyline on “fire”

As the fire died we took in the views of civilization there below us, lights coming on one by one, and reflected on how fortunate we were to be here and now.

Dusk at West Mountain Shelter

Dusk at West Mountain Shelter

As always happens on winter hikes, we wind up in the rack early. Winter nights in camp are long and it’s hard to sleep that long. I was down and out somewhere around 6:30, but by 9 I had to get up to readjust my tarp. The wind had picked up substantially, and I couldn’t stand the flapping of my tarp any longer. By the time I got done resetting everything Paul was up as well, and we did the same with his rig. We went over to the shelter and took some more night shots before resettling in, and I only woke a few times during the night. Somewhere around 6 am it started to rain, and the pitter patter on my cuben tarp told me it was time to rise and shine. I made breakfast and a hot cuppa tea, and as my meal soaked I broke down my hammock.

Under Paul's tarp in the rain

Under Paul’s tarp in the rain

I had brought along a camp stool I got from Jacks R Better(the same one Shug uses), and it was well worth the weight when you look at the comfort it provides. It’s funny how as the years go by I fuss over the weight of some things, and then add weight back in other places. It was nice to sit under the tarp and pack in comfort.

Packed up and ready to go

Packed up and ready to go

After packing and preparing for our walk out in the rain, Paul told me he had been thinking about our conversations of the prior day, and it led him to the days’ devotion in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” As the priest of our home we will one day give an account to God as to how we conducted ourselves in that mission field. Did we lead with the kingdom in mind, or did we compromise with the world? Put on the whole armor and be not ashamed of the gospel.

Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail

Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail

Our walk out this morning would be on the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail, and I was anxious to see the northern end, as I hope to hike the length of the park on this trail in the spring. The trail started with a few ups and downs and water was plentiful. Eventually the downhill got serious and very rocky. There were fleeting views of the Hudson, and then the trail turned into an old road as we reached Doodletown.

Doodletown Map

Doodletown Map

IMG_2167

Old foundation in Doodletown

Doodletown was a hamlet that had been inhabited at least since 1762, and at it’s peak 300 people had lived there. The park eventually bought out the residents, and by 1965 the town was completely abandoned. As you walk along the trail/road, you can’t help but imagine how rugged life in Doodletown must have been. These were some hardy folks.

The miles flew by, and as we drew nearer to the trail head civilization became more apparent. First we passed some highway construction equipment and powerlines, then on the final downhill stretch we could hear music. It was the sound of the outdoor ice skating rink at the trail head.

Skating Rink

Skating Rink

And just like that, bam, we were back. It was interesting to me how close, yet how far we were from people and niceties like ice rinks, and inns, and merry go rounds. It just goes to show you don’t need to go very far to get away. Just far enough. I can’t wait until next years winter hang!

 

 

 

 

A Second Chance For Harriman

Isaiah 43:18

“Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.”

 

Brothers in Arms

Brothers in Arms

Click Here To View Trip Pictures

Back in October I paid a visit to Harriman State Park in New York State, and it met me with beautiful trails and vistas, but the crowds and lack of water left me wanting a do over. I vowed to return in the off season to see another side of this diamond in the rough. I got my chance on the final weekend of December 2013. The forecast was for cold and rain on day two, so I set out, with my brother Paul Cummings, to see how the character of the park would change.

Day 1

I planned three different loop hikes so that we could assess the conditions when we got to Harriman and make an informed decision, and due to winter road closing and such we decided to do a repeat of the hike I did in October. The parking lot at Reeves Meadow was full, with just one spot left for my pickup in a snow pile by the trash dumpster. For the most part any snow from recent storms had melted, except what was piled high on the parking lot fringe. I was hoping this would be the case on the trail as well, since there were a few steep ups and downs to contend with during day one.

As we started it was cool and cloudy, not the sunny day we were promised. No matter – any day hiking is a good day.

Nice clear trail

Nice clear trail

There was breeze that added a nice crispness to the air, and it created the only sounds in the forest aside from mine and Paul’s conversation.

Cool boulder

Cool boulder

As we climbed ever higher on the Seven Hills Trail it became apparent that the heavens were going to bless us with the warming sun we were hoping for. By the time we reached the top of the ridge and the junction of the HTS Trail it was clear, with awesome views to the north and south.

Looking north toward Torne View

Looking north toward Torne View

As we climbed toward Torne View we came across some ice that made hiking interesting, but not all that difficult. Thankfully that would be the case the whole trip.

Icy patch

Icy patch

Paul and I took a short break at Torne View, but the stiff breeze chased us onward.

Amigos at Torne View

Amigos at Torne View

The trails were rather empty, however we did run into a large group of scouts on the Raccoon Brook Hills Trail near Chipmunk Mountain. We continued on and their sounds disappeared as fast as they had appeared. As we turned onto the Kakiat Trail I was optimistic that we would find water, given the recent snow fall. Even though the streams were all dry in October, I could now hear the unmistakable rush of flowing water. In fact every stream was flowing, even the ones I was told about that aren’t on the map. That makes me happy, happy, happy indeed.

Takin' a picture because it might not be there next time

Takin’ a picture because it might not be there next time ūüôā

As we hiked along I was thinking about how I figured my food just right and would eat the last of my days rations before camp, and we had water so life was good, and we would hit camp just before dark and all those things that you think about when you don’t have to think about anything at all, when it happened. Somewhere on Cobus Mountain I bonked. I completely ran out of steam. Rationing properly doesn’t mean a hill of beans if the food you eat doesn’t keep the machine going. Fortunately we were in the last mile or so, but it was a drag gettin’ it done.

Stone Memorial Lean-to

Stone Memorial Lean-to

Paul and I set about the business of setting up camp, and the unmarked stream that flows downhill from the lean-to was flowing, so we had everything we could ask for in a campsite, including solitude.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

I set up my stove, put on warm clothes, and started to second guess whether or not my paper thin quilts would keep me warm. As Paul attempted to start a fire I tried to force down my chicken and stuffing dinner, but my appetite just wasn’t there. I ate what I could and decided to hit the sack at 6:30 pm, just as darkness settled in. The wet wood just didn’t want to cooperate and since it wasn’t all that important Paul gave up and hit the hay as well. To my pleasant surprise I woke up an hour later quite comfortably (almost too toasty, in fact) warm. Even though it dipped into the 20’s overnight I slept happily warm all night. All I can say is I will never doubt my Hammock Gear quilts again.

Day 2

After a great nights sleep I think we packed up in record time. Paul and I were eager to get underway, as the days forecast called for rain in the late morning. We were so eager that as we started out of camp it occurred to me that we forgot our morning devotion. We stopped and took time to thank God for all that He has blessed us with, and away we went, only stopping to water up.

The trail back to the parking lot is generally downhill to level, and the highlights are Pine Meadow Lake as well as Pine Meadow and Stony Brooks.

A frozen Pine Meadow Lake

A frozen Pine Meadow Lake

The great thing about a winter hike on a rainy day is the lack of crowds, and I reveled in the fact that we would pass only about two dozen hikers on the way out, as opposed to the 200 or so I probably saw in October.

Pine Meadow Brook

Pine Meadow Brook

As Paul and I hiked the last 100 yards the rain drops started down. After we loaded up our gear and climbed into my cab it started coming down in buckets. Timing is everything, I always say.

So was the second time the charm? I enjoyed this hike just as much as my first experience, and all I can say is I think I found a new winter hiking destination.

 

 

 

 

 

Hangin’ In Harriman

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”

Starting out at Reeves Meadow Visitors Center

Starting out at Reeves Meadow Visitors Center

Click Here For Trip Pictures

Sometimes the circumstances that direct our paths through life (as well as our paths in the forest) can’t be imagined until you get there. So it went in the days leading up to this hike. I was supposed to meet up with a couple of dear brothers on a hike over McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Central Virginia, but while I was en route life intervened. A few days later, with a pack still loaded for a three day walk, I decided to stay close to home and hike in New York state’s Harriman State Park. For those of you unfamiliar with Harriman, it lies approximately 20 miles north of New York City, and contains the first miles ever constructed of the Appalachian Trail. My plan was to stay away from the crowds (as much as one can) and hike in the south-west corner of the park. As I parked my truck at the Reeves Meadow Visitors Center I found it hard to believe I was so close to New York City, and yet there were only 6 cars in the parking lot. I guess I should have known better – it was a Friday after all.

The first of many uphills

The first of many uphills

My walk started with a short walk west on the Pine Meadow Trail which led me to the Seven Hills trail. As the name states, the trail crosses seven hills if you follow its entire length. My plans were a little more loose and free-spirited, and I decided my route based on a whim of the moment. When I reached the Hillburn-Torne-Sebago Trail I decided against the views from Ramapo Torne and instead stayed on the Seven Hills Trail to Torne View.

Seven Hills Trail straight up to Torne View (yes the trail goes that way)

Seven Hills Trail straight up to Torne View (yes the trail goes that way)

The trail takes a vertical approach for the last 20 feet, then suddenly you’re standing on a ledge enjoying views to the northwest of the New York countryside.

Looking northwest from Torne View

Looking northwest from Torne View

There were a few day hikers out, but I was able to pick my degree of solitude merely by varying my hiking pace. In this instance that meant an extended lunch/nap while taking in the views. Soon enough I was alone again.

The world through my eyes

The world through my eyes

Back on the trail with my belly full and mind empty, I made the turn onto the Raccoon Brook Hills Trail. This was one of my favorite trails on this hike, since it was mostly a hilltop trail. There’s just something about hiking above the surrounding countryside that is really cool.

Raccoon Brook Hills Trail

Raccoon Brook Hills Trail

View from the Pulpit

View from the Pulpit

Right about the time I dropped down into the Torne Valley I realized I needed to start looking for water. No big deal I thought – the map showed two streams on the Kakiat Trail, so I made the turn. One half mile later I was looking at a dry stream bed. No problem, I’m not dry yet. I stopped to snack and look at my options just in case. Another half mile and another dry stream bed – yikes! I said a short prayer for safe passage and continued on, but by now I was rationing water and starting to dehydrate. I adjusted my pace to conserve energy and as I reached the Suffern- Bear Mountain Trail I knew that the next stream would be no better.¬†The song “Oceans” by Hillsong United was stuck in my head, “Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me,¬†You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”.¬† ¬†I reached a viewpoint where I could make out the New York City skyline 20 miles distant, and at least for a short while that helped to take my mind off my immediate trouble.

New York City skyline 20 miles away

New York City skyline 20 miles away

I might as well kill the tension right now – I wasn’t going to die. I was just going to get a reminder of how much you can trust maps. Anyway, I knew what I had to do, like it or not. My destination for the night was Stone Memorial shelter, which is a dry shelter. That meant I would first have to detour down the Conklins Crossing Trail to Pine Meadow Lake for water. This added an extra mile or so round trip that in my dehydrated state I did not appreciate. At the lake I filled both of my bottles, then proceeded to drink 32 ounces straight down. This upset my stomach, but I knew I knew I needed to drink up. I briefly debated finding a stealth camping spot somewhere around the lake, but I knew I couldn’t do it. I remember someone telling me once, ” It’s not what you do when people are watching, but what you do when no one is watching that defines your character”.¬†¬†Camping is only legal around the shelters in Harriman and I was determined to do the right thing.

Stone Memorial shelter

Stone Memorial shelter

I’m glad I did, because the hike back up to the ridge wasn’t that bad. I reached the shelter around 4:30 pm, and was immediately impressed. Made completely of stone, with three fireplaces, it sat on top of a rock slab (but unfortunately no views). There were five guys already camping in the shelter so I walked to the bottom of the rock and found a site that was as good as I could hope for anywhere.

What could be better?

What could be better?

I set up the hammock, got water boiling and hung my bear bag. At that point there was nothing to do but relax. Nothing is sweeter than chilling in camp after you’ve earned it. Stuffing, gravy, and chicken for dinner followed by some reading and before I knew it, it was dark. The guys up on the hill were drinking and whooping it up, so I just kept to myself. Eventually everyone settled down and all that was left was the sounds of the woods. Aaahh, yes!

Day 2

Boiling water for breakfast

Boiling water for breakfast

I awoke a few times during the night to answer mother nature’s call, but otherwise slept well. In fact I didn’t get up until around 8 am. There’s nothing like a great night’s sleep in a hammock, and if I could convince my wife I’d sleep in a hammock every night. Before finally committing to a new day I spent some time reading Psalms; “For I know that¬†the¬†Lord¬†is great,¬†and that our Lord is above all gods.¬†Whatever the¬†Lord¬†pleases, he does,¬†in heaven and on earth,¬†in the seas and all deeps.¬†He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,¬†who¬†makes lightnings for the rain¬†and brings forth the wind from his¬†storehouses.” (Psalm 135:5-7 ESV). It’s by God’s great grace that I get to enjoy another beautiful day!

As I waited for my Mountain House scrambled eggs with ham to rehydrate, and my tea to cool, I broke camp.  I was originally going to make this a three day hike, but not wanting a repeat of the day before and given the uncertainty of the other water sources I was depending on, I decided to hike out instead. Since I was retracing my steps back to Pine Meadow Lake I was certain I would have no further water troubles.

Pine Meadow Lake

Pine Meadow Lake

It’s amazing what a good nights sleep can do for a person, and as I walked along I felt great. I knew I would be near good water all day, so I didn’t bother filling up at the lake. It was a crisp, clear, beautiful morning and nothing could spoil it. Well, almost.

Along Pine Meadow Lake

Along Pine Meadow Lake

As I walked along the shoreline I passed a large group of day hikers, about 30 in number. The closer I got to the upper end of the lake, the more people I passed. I continued on the Kakiat Trail as more and more people appeared. By the time I hit the Pine Meadow Trail, it had become a steady stream of day hikers, many of which were woefully ill prepared for any type of outdoor activity. Some looked like they genuinely didn’t want to be there. Maybe they hate crowds too, heh, heh.

Along the Pine Meadow Trail

Along the Pine Meadow Trail

I wasn’t sure how much further I had to go, so I finally gave in and filled my water bottle and took in a few snacks to keep me going. Better safe than sorry. Little did I know I was only about a quarter mile from the trailhead. Oh well.

The end is near

The end is in sight

Funny thing – you would think that all the people I passed would have prepared me for the circus I would see at the trailhead parking lot. Not so. As I meandered over to my truck I was struck by the immensity of it all. People fighting their way into the crowded lot, and people fighting their way out. Cars were parked as far as the eye could see in both directions along the road, and yet cars still pulled in, as if one of the twenty spots in the lot would miraculously be available. It was a mind blowing juxtaposition from the day before.

So what did I think of hiking in Harriman? Harriman has a lot to offer in terms of terrain, scenery, and resources. I personally thought it was beautiful! Unfortunately it’s incredibly taxed, particularly on the weekends. I would certainly go again (and I will, God willing), but never on a weekend. I would hike the southern section of the park and do it during the week. My next trip would be during the spring when water would (should) be more available. It’s not the solitude I find in the Adirondacks, but for me, Harriman State Park is a good opportunity to get away within a few hours of home.